Tuesday, June 21, 2005

FT.com / Middle East & Africa - Tehran's mayor has Rafsanjani on defensive

FT.com / Middle East & Africa - Tehran's mayor has Rafsanjani on defensive: "Middle East & Africa

Tehran's mayor has Rafsanjani on defensive
By Gareth Smyth in Tehran
Published: June 21 2005 03:00 | Last updated: June 21 2005 03:00

Since he became mayor of Tehran two years ago, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad has not taken a holiday. He drives an old Peugeot, prays regularly and lives a simple life.

On Friday Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, 49, takes on a leading figure of Iran's Islamic republic, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 71, in a run-off ballot to decide the next president.

Mr Rafsanjani's camp says the choice is between a pragmatist who believes in dialogue with the west and private enterprise, and a hard-line xenophobe who dislikes foreign investment.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's strategy is to portray himself as a "Man of the People" - a sharp contrast to the life style Mr Rafsanjani and his family are alleged to lead. Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's supporters say he is a "fundamentalist", a man true to the egalitarianism of Iran's the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The Rafsanjani camp is taking no chances: for the election's second round, the campaign has jettisoned mixed parties and loud street music, which they used to attract younger voters but which alienated many in conservative Iran.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's supporters have rebutted the charge that their patron opposes the private sector, stressing Tehran council's contracts with Chinese companies for the new metro, its $200m (€243m, £133m) international loan to renovate old Tehran, and its talks with European companies on projects such as waste management.

They emphasise that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's sober attitude to running city hall is a model for running Iran. The atmosphere is focused - and clearly Islamic. There is calligraphy on the walls and women staff wear chadors, the head-to-toe covering.

Mehdi Chamran, the council's chairman, says the mayor's main achievements are "scientific management" of the city's first development plan for 37 years and his "links with the people".

With the revolution, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad joined the Basij, an Islamic militia, and worked as an engineer in the 1980-88 war with Iraq. His administrative talents led to posts in the west and north-west until, in the late 1990s he became governor-general of the northern province of Ardabil. Like many, he was frustrated at what he saw as weakening commitment to the revolution's ideals.

In the run-up to Tehran's 2003 municipal elections, a group of fundamentalists formed Abadgaran ('Developers'), a list to challenge a council paralysed by in-fighting and corruption allegations. The poll ended a run of reformist victories in Iran. In 2004 fundamentalists nationwide took a similar approach to Abadgaran and won control of parliament after the disqualification of many reformist candidates."